India was preparing on Wednesday for its second attempt moon landing, a historic moment for the world’s most populous country.
Chandrayaan-3, which means “mooncraft” in Sanskrit, is scheduled to put down its Vikram lander shortly after 6pm India time near the little-explored lunar south pole in what would be a world first for any space programme.
A previous Indian effort failed in 2019, and the latest mission comes just days after Russia’s first moon mission in almost 50 years, destined for the same region, crashed on the lunar surface.
Former Indian space chief K Sivan said the latest photos transmitted back by the lander gave every indication the final leg of the voyage would succeed.
It is giving some encouragement that we will be able to achieve the landing mission without any problem,” he told AFP on Monday.
Sivan added that the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) had made corrections after the failure of four years ago, when scientists lost contact with a lunar module moments before its slated landing
Chandrayaan-3 is going to go with more ruggedness,” he said. “We have confidence, and we expect that everything will go smoothly.”
The mission launched nearly six weeks ago in front of thousands of cheering spectators, taking much longer to reach the moon than those of the Apollo missions in the 1960s and 1970s, which arrived in a matter of days.
India is using rockets much less powerful than the US did back then. Instead, the probe orbited Earth several times to gain speed before embarking on its month-long lunar trajectory.
The spacecraft’s lander, Vikram, which means “valour” in Sanskrit, detached from its propulsion module last week and has been sending back images of the moon’s surface since entering lunar orbit on 5 August.
A day before the landing, the ISRO said on social media that it was proceeding on schedule and that its mission control complex was “buzzed with energy & excitement”.
“Smooth sailing is continuing,” the agency posted on X, formerly Twitter.
India has a comparatively low-budget aerospace programme, but one that has grown considerably in size and momentum since it first sent a probe to orbit the moon in 2008.
The latest mission comes with a price tag of $74.6m – far lower than those of other countries, in keeping with India’s frugal space engineering.
Experts say India can keep costs low by copying and adapting existing space technology, and thanks to an abundance of highly skilled engineers who earn a fraction of their foreign counterparts’ wages.
In 2014, India became the first Asian country to put a satellite into orbit around Mars and is slated to launch a crewed mission into Earth’s orbit in the next few years, starting with uncrewed test flights in 2024.
Sivan, the former ISRO chief, said India’s efforts to explore the relatively unmapped lunar south pole would make a “very, very important” contribution to scientific knowledge.
Only Russia, the US and China have previously achieved a controlled landing on the lunar surface.